Posts

Please, Please, Please Do Not Disturb!

Image
It’s 2020. You know, the year with the fires, pandemic, murder hornets, and more fires. There’s a pandemic forcing millions of employees to work from home. I’m fortunate to have a dedicated home office to work out of and various family members are always dropping by to say hi. I love being able to see my family so often! Except when I’m on a work call. And until recently, my family’s way of determining if I was on a call was to barge into my office yelling, “Are you on a call?”. And I would have to gesture off-camera to my headset while maintaining a completely neutral face or fumble for the mute button to answer them that, yes, I am on a call. You’d think the closed door and large Jabra 75 headset covering my ears would be clue enough but, alas, my family requires something a little less subtle. Something along the lines of a flashing, bright red “on-air” sign used by TV studios.

Migrating Z-Wave Devices to Home Assistant

Image
As I shared in the previous post, my system was running Home Assistant but talking to my devices through the cloud integration to SmartThings. Node-RED was able to respond to events and turn lights and or off (in HA-land, this is referred to as “calling a service”) but these automations were not yet running locally due to the integration with SmartThings. My next task was to start moving devices over from SmartThings to the Home Assistant Z-Wave integration.

Allow Myself to Introduce... Myself to Home Assistant

Image
After deciding to leave SmartThings, I decided to first try out HomeAssistant (henceforth to be known as HA). HA is an open source project that has the reputation of being compatible with hundreds (if not thousands) of devices and eco-systems with a large and powerful set of plugins. It sounds great, but it also has the reputation of being difficult to configure due to its reliance on text based yaml files. You also have to provide the hardware for it to run on which means that you need to know something about "computers" before getting started. Undeterred by what seemed to be minor technical hurdles, I dived right in.

Why I'm Leaving SmartThings

Image
For the past few years, I’ve been building up my home automation system piece by piece. I’ve set up automated lights activated by voice assistants, timers, and motion sensors, configured cameras, temperature and humidity sensors, and smart thermostats. I’ve even configured several wall panels that act as control centers for much of the system that show different information based on the day of the week and switch to a camera view when my doorbell rings. Powering this all is a system called SmartThings, an automation ecosystem owned by Samsung. 

SmartThings has always been an interesting platform because of its cloud-based nature. I purchased the hub several years ago and linked all my lights and systems to it. However, all automations and custom code are stored and run in Samsung’s cloud. This means developers have nearly unlimited computing power at their disposal for running automations. This gave rise to automation systems like WebCore which gives SmartThings a program-like interfac…

Deal: Ring 2 Smart Doorbell for $89.99

Image
B&H is currently having a sale on the Ring 2 Doorbell for $89.99. We've discussed the Ring 2 previously in our Beginners Guide to Smart Video Doorbells and still maintain that it is one of the best wireless camera doorbells available. As it usually costs $200 and is occasionally on sale for $150 - this is a great deal at $90! This deal expires today.

Click here to see it on B&H's website.


2-in-1 Z-Wave Switch Release

Image
Many bathrooms have a single-gang box that has 2 switches in it, one above the other.

 Typically, one controls a light and the other, a heater or exhaust fan. To automate these switches, there were a few options, none of them ideal. You could use smart bulbs which have the issues we've discussed in the past. That also doesn't help control the fan. You can also use an internal relay such as Fibaro double switch (or the equivalent model from Qubino)  that mounts inside your wall or fixture and can control both loads. However, fitting these switches behind your existing light switch along with all the necessary wires can be quite challenging if not impossible!

Online forums are full of advice that usually recommends breaking open your wall and installing a 2-gang box to accommodate a second smart switch. Needless to say, that approach is not what most home automation DIYers are hoping to hear.

Today, our friends from The Smartest House have released their long-awaited solution to…

A Beginner's Guide to Presence Detection

Image
One of the most difficult aspects of home automation to do correctly is Presence. However, it’s also one of the most useful. Knowing if your home is occupied allows your automation to do things like turn off all the lights, turn down the heat or a/c, or even activate an alarm system when you leave. These obvious use-cases make setting up presence detection a must-have for most smart homes; but unfortunately, this is incredibly easy to get wrong. Flaky detection methods coupled with the natural complications caused by the normal comings and goings of a multi-person house can yield unpredictable behavior and trigger light, sirens, and tempers unexpectedly (see Getting Automation Right).